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White House’s Budget Blueprint Includes Significant Cuts to the EPA

Last week, the White House unveiled its $1.65 trillion blueprint for the FY2018 federal budget, which prioritizes discretionary defense spending, with an increase of $54 billion to $603 billion, by reducing total non-defense discretionary funds to $462 billion. Among the agencies targeted for budget cuts, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) would see its annual funding drop by 24 percent from $8.2 billion a year to $6.1 billion, and since much of that funding already goes to states and localities via grants, the reduction could have a significant impact on the agency’s primary functions. Along with direct funding cuts, the White House may reduce EPA staff by 20 percent, from about 15,000 to roughly 12,000. To learn more about which EPA programs could be cut and other effects the proposed budget could have on environmental and energy policy, read on!

The budgetary blueprint proposes cutting grants to states and for air and water programs by 30 percent. It specifically mentions that, as proposed, 38 separate programs could be eliminated entirely. Specific program mentions include grants to clean up brownfields, the radon program, climate change initiatives, and funding for Alaskan native villages. The Office of Research and Development could lose as much as 42 percent of its budget, and the new budget would eliminate all funding for the office’s contribution to the U.S. Global Change Research Program. The blueprint also pushes states to take on “more active enforcement roles,” while the agency curtails its compliance-monitoring. The proposal would eliminate the agency’s environmental justice office, moving any potential future work to the Office of Policy.

Other likely reduction targets include Clean Power Plan implementation, fourteen separate EPA partnerships programs to reduce GHG emissions, including voluntary climate partnership programs; multi-purpose grants to states and tribes; Energy Star grants, Science to Achieve Results (STAR) graduate fellowships; environmental justice and environmental education efforts; the Diesel Emissions Reduction Act; and initiatives aimed at environmental protections along the US-Mexico border.

Given the proposal has already garnered criticism from both Republicans and Democrats and that the budget will have to be codified through the congressional appropriations process, it is unlikely that it will receive congressional approval in its current form. Representative Mike Simpson (R-ID), former chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment, and related agencies, has said that he cannot fathom Congress approving such a significant funding reduction. Environmental organizations, congressional Democrats, and past agency administrators have also voiced strong opposition to the blueprint. Furthermore, EPA Administrator Pruitt has already signaled his concern to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Director Mick Mulvaney over some of the cuts, particularly as they relate to water infrastructure, brownfields, and Superfund. The White House will send an outline of its spending proposal to Congress on March 16, with more significant details to follow by May.

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Sarah Litke